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Scientists Supercharge Soybean Photosynthesis, Boosting Growth by 30 Pct

Following a decade of research, scientists have successfully genetically engineered soybeans to maximize the efficiency of photosynthesis, resulting in plants that produce greater yields without using more land or sacrificing quality.

Through the international Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE) project, scientists have determined how to increase food crop yields by leveraging how plants turn sunlight into energy. In 2016, proof of concept work using tobacco plants was published, which led teams to turn their attention to food crops. Having shown significant yield increases in two very different crops - tobacco and soybeans - this work has demonstrated a “universal applicability”, showing promise as a tool to fight food scarcity, which is projected to affect 600 million people by 2030, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Photosynthesis is a highly inefficient process involving more than 100 steps. To increase efficiency, scientists have focused on one particular part of the process called the xanthophyll cycle. By editing three genes, researchers were able to modify how plants regulate this protective mode, or xanthophyll cycle, when exposed to high levels of sunlight and then shade.

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